More than a quarter century ago, John Cagle told his dad he was opening a restaurant at the corner of 4th Street and FM 179 near the soon-to-be-closed Reese Air Force Base.
“You’re gonna do what out there in the country?” Cagle recalls his dad asking.
Cagle Steaks exceeded any concerns Cagle’s dad uttered that day.
“We continue to be blessed out here,” said Cagle, sitting in his spacious office on the south side of the courtyard that leads to the main dining room known for its ribeye steaks.
John and Lisa Cagle built a house on the same property as the business where they raised their children. Daughter Tatum runs the front office.
They expanded spaces for private events that wrap around the parking lot.
If you ignore the SUVs and massive trucks filling the parking lot, it looks like a set for a western movie.
“You never know who’s going to walk in the door,” Cagle said.
Supreme Court justices, actors, pro and college athletes, broadcast crews and officials. The last two groups are usually in town to work a Texas Tech sports event.
They all journey northwest of Lubbock to Cagle’s spread.
The Cagles have built a strong bond with Tim Tadlock, Tech baseball coach and many of his players like Texas Ranger Josh Jung, whose team is playing in the World Series.
“My wife kinda helped him grow up around here,” Cagle said. She texted Jung after a recent Rangers playoff game, texting it’s fun to watch him on a big stage.
“He texted back, ‘Thanks for watching.’ I couldn’t believe he responded,” Cagle said.
As much fun as it is to talk about the famous folks who come through the doors, Cagle quickly adds:
“Then there’s just regular good old West Texas and Eastern New Mexico folks,” he said.
‘You ought to go up there and do what I’m doing’
Cagle grew up in Floydada and was working in the ag chemical business when he and Lisa connected through team roping in Abilene. Lisa – also from Floydada – was working as a physical therapist.
Cagle became friends with Joe Allen, owner of an Abilene restaurant serving ribeye steaks, barbecue and a few more options.
Cagle was looking for a career change.
“He knew I was ready to make a change and said, ‘You’re from up there around Lubbock – you ought to go up there and do what I’m doing.’ That planted the seed,” Cagle said.
The original restaurant, started with John’s brother Rusty, before he moved on other things, opened in 1996 and was closer to FM 179.
Gene Hunter, now Cagle’s general manager, started working as a dishwasher when they opened.
Then the railroad took that strip of land through eminent domain and the Cagles shifted a bit west.
“We took a leap of faith and built this new dining room,” Cagle said.
Other buildings followed, allowing them to handle private events for 30 to 400 people, he said.
“That really gave this place life,” Cagle said, along with live music on weekends.
He’s also proud of his General Store, just east of the Salt Lick bar.
“I’ve always wanted a little store, a general merchandise store that sold everything from baby clothes, pocket knives and we had a little spot over there in the courtyard. It’s been there ever since,” Cagle said. “It’s been a fun little deal. People like to hang out and look. It’s filled with a lot of West Texas curios.”
‘Our whole concept was keep it simple’
The property saw changes, but the original plan hasn’t too much.
“Our whole concept was keep it simple. Be very good at a few things,” Cagle said.
His menu fits on one page and looks a lot like Joe Allen’s menu.
“We cook on real mesquite fires with our seasoning. We build today’s fire off last night’s coals. We hand cut our steaks – all aged top-grade ribeyes. We’ve added filets by popular demand,” he said.
“The cool guys are the ones who cook the steaks, and to be one of those cool guys, you’ve got a learning curve to not only learn how to produce the right product but not burn the house down in the process. After you’ve done thousands of those you can tell just by looking,” Cagle said.
The menu also offers chicken fried ribeye steak, barbecue, catfish and a few more items.
“I’ve always cooked catfish – I love it,” he added.
A favorite place for sports teams
Lubbock sports teams – like Tadlock’s Red Raiders – have come to Cagle’s for years.
Visiting teams, too.
When Kim Mulkey led Baylor’s women’s basketball team, they’d come to Cagle Steaks. After Mulkey led Baylor to two national titles, she left for LSU and won the championship there last season.
Former big league pitcher Roger Clemens came when his boys played for Texas – his alma mater.
When former Tech football coach Mike Leach was posthumously inducted into the school’s Hall of Honor at the Sept. 30 game against Houston, Leach’s widow Sharon and her party visited the restaurant the night before.
Leach loved Cagle’s when he was in Lubbock, Cagle said.
Walt Huffman – former dean of the Texas Tech School of Law – hosted a few Supreme Court justices including Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
Actor and West Texas native Barry Corbin has also walked through the doors.
Then there are customers who’ve become friends and regulars whose favorites are so well known “we don’t even ask what they want to eat or how they want it cooked. It hits the grill the moment they walk in the door or call,” Cagle said.
Some have arrived by helicopter or small planes.
Bill Sowder, now a retired senior judge, has been coming to Cagle’s almost back to its first day.
He knew the Cagles and heard they were opening a steak house. Cagle called him, inviting the then-district attorney for Lubbock County to try the new restaurant.
His favorite is The Jake steak – a 10-ounce ribeye named after John and Lisa’s son.
“It’s the right amount, there’s no need to roll me out of there,” Sowder said.
The steak has never changed over the years, Sowder said.
“It hit my palette,” he said, adding he’s enjoyed watching it cooked in the kitchen on the mesquite fire.
Loop 88 will eventually brush by west side
Lubbock has grown closer to the restaurant and plans for the outer loop – Loop 88 – will be very close to Cagle’s property. Like the railroad years ago, part of Cagle’s land to the west will be used for the road. When finished, it will allow drivers to come off U.S. 84 near Shallowater and rejoin it north of Slaton – or vice versa.
Loop 88’s first segment is being built on the south side of Lubbock along 130th Street.
Cagle isn’t thrilled with losing some land, but also realizes Loop 88 will make it easier for people in South and Southwest Lubbock to get to him.